Library news

December 2019

Library Survey

As part of the ongoing review of the Society' library and our collections surveys were made of those who used the library (and some of those that don't)

An online survey was carried out in August/September 2019 to collect views from both members and non-members regarding the collections (books, manuscripts, microfilm/fiche, digital, etc) held by the Society of Genealogists.  An in-house survey was also carried out at the library during the same period to establish what material was being used.

The online survey was completed by 566 people out of slightly over 8000 members and some newsletter subscribers.  In September 2019, just under 300 unique members (including staff and volunteers) and 28 non-members visited the library and 95 completed the in-house survey. A summary of the results and key learning are presented here. It should be noted that this presents the outcome of these surveys alone, remembering that this is just a sample and further surveys or other types of analysis will give further insights. It was unfortunate that the online survey did not ask whether or not the responder was a member of the Society of Genealogists as this would have provided an additional useful insight.

  • 10% of respondents considered themselves to be beginners, 56% intermediate and 34% advanced.
  • 55% lived within the Home Counties and 45% elsewhere in the UK or abroad.
  • 15% visited at least monthly. 18% had never visited.
  • The library is most valued for its unique material and being a one-stop library and archive.
  • Access to help and advice and the education programme also ranked highly.
  • The more experienced the user, the larger the range of record types that are used.
  • The most used record set is the parish registers (both the transcripts and original images), being frequently used by 80% of visitors.
  • In-house survey respondents overwhelmingly, and often exclusively, used the computer suite during their visits.
  • No one record set covered by the survey was perceived to be of no value.
  • There was no one data set that respondents wanted to be digitised preferentially.
  • SoG Data Online is used infrequently by the majority of users.
  • Many people are unaware of the content of SoG Data Online. There were a number of people who requested digitisation of datasets that are already available. Better publicity of which datasets are online is needed.
  • There is a need to improve user knowledge, help and education about the collections and how to find and use them.
  • A consolidated catalogue is the most requested improvement for making a visit easier.
  • The facilities (space to work, wifi, access to plugs, space to move, access to shelves - especially the higher ones) were ranked in the middle (ie not ‘very poor’ nor ‘excellent’).

The full analysis is available on the Society’s website here


The meeting started by recounting the issues raised in the 2018 forum and giving updates of the developments that have taken place since then at the Society.  This update was followed by discussions from members as follows:

Acquisitions Policy

A Library Collections Review Working Group was constituted after the last forum to analyse the acquisitions received by the Society. The group was given the task of reviewing the Society’s Collections policy to cover material to be kept in the Library, to ensure that only valuable material is acquired and that we maintain our unique holdings while managing the finite space available.

The group is in the process of assessing the Library holdings and what should be kept or de-accessioned to other archives.  As part of this process, the members were consulted through two surveys that were conducted in September 2019.  One was a Library online survey and another was conducted onsite by those who visited the Library.  The Library Collections Review Working Group also carried out a Library audit to confirm the items held in the Library against the linear measurement of the shelf space. 

IT Issues

An IT Transformation Group was set up to assess the performance of all applications and information systems at the Society and to make recommendations to Management for an IT infrastructure to serve members of the Society in the digital age.  The IT-related issues raised in the 2018 forum would be addressed in the strategy of the IT Transformation Group.  The applications to be analysed would include re-evaluating the suppliers of software for the Catalogue, SoG Data Online, WiFi and the website, among others.

In the Lower Library, Firefox as a browser is used and a suggestion was made to possibly switch to Chrome which is used many people.  ?is it?  Did the surveys ask this?

A question was raised as to when will there be an upgrade at the Society to Windows 10? It was noted that there is a need to review our IT arrangements, as our technology- computers, network access etc. – is old.

The National Archives was mentioned as a shining example of the access of images online, e.g. ‘War diaries’

Digitisation Project

Members were informed that FamilySearch are digitising many of their microfilms and the digital images can now be viewed online in the Society’s library, as well as the physical copies of the films that were acquired in 2017. 

A pilot project is being set up for the Society to digitise some of its collections in the Upper Library in partnership with FamilySearch.  Preparations for this pilot project in the Upper Library will take place during Closed Week 2020.  The pilot project will be carried out by scanning the Family History collection. The linking of the catalogue to our digital collections online was commended.

Relocation of premises

A decision has been made by the Trustees to relocate the Society, as the current building is no longer fit for purpose without investing a lot of money.  It was noted that the London Metropolitan Archives is also relocating.  It was suggested that it would be ideal to have courses and the Library in the same location.

Communication  Channels

A concern was raised about the lack of communication by the Trustees with the membership. It was felt that members are not adequately communicated with on the different committees and the membership of such groups.  Members felt they were not aware of any of the reports on the findings of the Collections Working group that was submitted to the Trustees and members wanted to know the practical time scale for enacting the new Acquisitions Policy.  What are the plans for the Society?

Members expressed the need for a forum for discussing all other Society issues with the Trustees, apart from the Library, for example:

Reviewing the charges for lectures and courses for members and non-members, as there is not much difference between them
The Society should organise digitisation courses for members & non-members to provide guidance on how to present family history collections to the Society.  
The Acquisitions Policy needs guidelines on which document collections are acceptable to be donated to the Society.
A concern was raised about reaching out to members who are not available on email or the internet.
On the moratorium issued, members were interested to know whether there is a policy of what will be accepted. When will the policy be in place? It is urgently needed.  What are the time scales? The Society should be wary of refusing valuable collections during the transformation period.
Can the Society communicate its plans for the future, what are the committees and who is on them?  Members are keen to hear about the decision-making process and what is happening. There was a plea for the use of the Society’s newsletter to communicate these issues to members.  There should also be more business issues communicated to members in the quarterly Genealogists’ Magazine.
The Society should be quick in coming up with the new Acquisitions policy and the timetable of events should be communicated to the members for them to update and edit their bequests on collections.

Members’ Perception of the Society

It was noted that members feel very passionate about how valuable the Society is to them and which aspects they would not like to be altered.  Their thoughts and views on what the Society represents to them are outlined below:

The Society should be the guardian of our heritage.
I am a member of a special organisation.
The important aspect of keeping heritage, preservation and guardian of heritage which is a unique selling point. 
Belongs to the Society because of the library and loves to browse in search for gems, which is a valuable experience.
The Society is the custodian of the past.  
There is a concern that if everything is digitised, the Library, which is valuable and tangible, will be lost.
The Society should be a Centre of Excellence, a place to find the rare and ephemeral and a niche for unique collections. 
The Common Room should have a friendly ambience and not be a place which is quiet, with no interaction. Make the Common Room more comfortable, put pictures up, interesting displays of documents. The reception should be welcoming.
There is a need to have one place of contact to search for items in the Library.
Crowd sourcing for indexing is an option for the Society.  Get rid of in depth indexing, which is slow.
Members feel they belong because of the open access to some records where they can freely browse to look for gems in the collection and experience the serendipity which is very important for family history.  Open access of records is very critical.

Library Catalogue

Can the SoG Catalogue be visible in Discovery, World Cat and other sites for publicity?

The Catalogue requires resources to be able to carry out improvements. There are too many places to look for records at the Society, it would be ideal to search in one location for all records.

SoG Data Online

It was noted that members would want more training on the use of SoG Data Online and would like more browsing and quick flip of images in the viewer facility.  The Society should make our unique manuscript collection useable online.  It can’t be searched easily and there is a need for quick image viewing.

Comments on Evaluation Forms

In the evaluation form at the end of the forum, members indicated what they found useful/helpful/interesting in having attended the meeting as follows:

  • Discussing the future of the Library, and the way forward
  • Interesting presentation and member contributions
  • The challenges of making the collections available given the space and funding limitations
  • Open discussions on library issues
  • Explanations of why things are as they are (e.g. slow IT) and why certain decisions have been taken
  • Elaboration of the problems faced by the Library and possible solutions
  • The opportunity for members to share views and make them known to staff and Trustees.

For the improvement of future meetings, the following was suggested:

  • Need to have the meeting via webinar for those not in London
  • Consider holding meetings earlier in the day
  • Meetings for Forum to be held on a non-working day
  • The temperature in the lecture room to be improved.

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SoG Data Online


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